Tom Sachs returns to Anderson Ranch Arts Center
If You Go …
What: ‘The Dynamic Culture of Contemporary Art Making,’ with Tom Sachs and Tom Healy
Where: Schermer Meeting Hall, Anderson Ranch Arts Center
When: Wednesday, July 13 & Thursday, July 14, 7-9 p.m.
More info: The question-and-answer portion of the workshops are open to the public. Register to attend at www.andersonranch.org
What: Open Studio with Tom Sachs
Where: Visiting Artist Studio, Anderson Ranch Arts Center
When: Monday, July 18, 3-5 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: www.andersonranch.org
Applicants for a two-day workshop with artist Tom Sachs and poet Tom Healy at Anderson Ranch Arts Center only had to fill one simple criterion to get in: give your entire life to your art.
“You don’t have to be a world-famous artist, you just have to make the commitment that it’s more important than your family,” Sachs deadpanned in a recent phone interview from his New York studio. “That was the prerequisite.”
Sachs is arguably the most prominent artist of his generation, best known for his bricolage sculptures and “Space Program” installations. This spring, Sachs opened the immersive environment “Tea Ceremony” at the Noguchi Museum and a retrospective of his “Boombox” sculptures and sound systems at the Brooklyn Museum. In September he’ll open a new space installation at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
The commitment he demands of artists who work for him was memorably detailed in “10 Bullets,” a cheeky short film and written guide that outlines his code of artistic discipline and the rigor he expects from assistants (“follow this guide carefully and you probably won’t be fired”). Though it’s couched in irony, “10 Bullets” is deadly serious in its demands and about Sachs’ philosophy of artistic practice. It’s rooted in the power of routine and in practices, like being on time and cleaning your workspace at the end of the day.
Over his two-day workshop with Healy this week, Sachs will investigate how that daily rigor informs the work of an artist.
“We’re looking at trying to understand how ritual plays a big part — whether it’s the ritual of showing up and working every day or drinking a cup of coffee in your favorite cup or making that cup or the ritual of preparing a ground before painting it: how routine is important to developing authentic gestures, marks and activities that are not just made up of a capricious creativity but are integrated into your life,” Sachs said. “That’s where religion and art and athletics all come together, through repetition.”
Of course, there are many ways of being an artist, Sachs added, and his way may not work for everyone. But that’s his way and the only way he can teach. It’s a method he’s developed over the decades of trial and error and a collection, as he put it, of “tricks I’ve developed over the years to survive.”
For example, Sachs recalled a piece of advice from his mentor Edward Tufte, the statistician and data visualization pioneer, that has become a central part of his personal practice. Tufte, he said, advises students to begin their day — before reading the paper or checking email — by doing the thing they are most passionate about.
“To write in your journal or draw a picture or handle clay – whatever it is you do, do that first,” Sachs said. “Use our waking hours to engage in what you want to be doing for the rest of your life.”
In doing that, he said, the subconscious mind that’s been at work during sleep immediately gets to work on the thing that’s most important to him.
Sachs has a long-standing relationship with Aspen, Snowmass Village and Anderson Ranch, which have provided a regular escape for him from the New York art world. He’s worked and taught at Anderson Ranch often, he’s shown with the Baldwin Gallery in Aspen and, through the Aspen Art Museum, he installed the large-scale sculptures “Miffy Fountain” and “My Melody” on the Snowmass Village pedestrian mall in 2014.
“It’s always been a place with super nice people that has always been very welcoming to me personally,” he said. “But then when I started to look at the history of Aspen, I realized I shouldn’t be taking it personally, that there’s a great tradition of people being into art and thinking — it’s in so many things, from the Aspen Institute to Hunter Thompson and Gay Ski Week, the food and, of course, more than anything, the beauty and the natural landscape.”
The ranch, he said, has become a destination for him to experiment with different media and approaches — most often working outside of his sculpture and metalworking wheelhouse, instead spending time on ceramics and throwing pots.
“The ranch is this amazing place where I can kind of f— around a little bit and not worry about getting it right,” he said, “because it’s very important to take risks and fail often and fail hard because it’s only through those failures that you learn and improve.”
Some years ago, he recalled, he was working in a metal studio on the ranch when a visiting teacher showed him a small technique that’s since saved him countless hours of time.
“I’m sure there are other moves like that, where I’ve just been doing it the wrong way for 30 years,” he said with a laugh. “The most gratifying feeling is being a novice again or feeling like one.”
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